Interview with Nicole Radke, YESS Team Lead
June is Indigenous History Month, and June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day! Approximately half of the youth who access YESS are Indigenous (First Nations, Métis, Inuit), and we know that access to culturally specific experiences either through YESS staff or through partner organizations can be an important asset on the journey towards healing and a positive community.
Tell us about yourself and your position at YESS!
My name is Nicole Radke I come from a background of Cree/German parents, and I am currently the Team Lead at the Armoury Resource Centre.
What particular principles or processes does YESS have to ensure that programs are a safe space for Indigenous youth who may be on a journey of healing that includes their culture, their family, their extended relations, etc.?
We have been building relationships with different Indigenous agencies so we can provide our Indigenous youth ample opportunities to learn about their culture. We offer supplies they would need to practice their culture and will go to different ceremonies with them. One in particular has been our Land Connection where we learn about Mother Earth and get to connect. Our programs are able to provide [cultural or spiritual] medicine for the youth when it is needed. The staff at YESS are open and listen to the youth so we can learn about their practices and teachings. We recognize not everyone has the same teachings. We exist in a non-judgemental environment and give space so they know that they can determine their own journey of healing, we simply walk with them, learn with them, learn from them, and support them.
Why is it important to create this kind of safety for youth? Both in YESS programs and in the wider community?
Representation is so important when it comes to creating a safe space for the youth. There has recently been significant awareness brought to the Indigenous community and the mistreatment that stemmed from colonization, which was hidden for years. To be allies we need to provide space that is safe for our youth and provide a space where they know they can learn about their culture, they can share their culture, and that they can do this without stigmatization. Healing comes from reconnection and balancing. YESS gives this space to the youth by listening to their voices and hearing about what practices they would like to see in our agency. We have seen youth reconnect with culture because they were in a safe space, and we have seen them transition into independence and are leading the most beautiful lives filled with culture and stability.
Indigenous History Month is about activism, but it is also a celebration! What is the impact of youth having opportunities to celebrate themselves and share in the joys and practices of their culture?
We get to see their beautiful spirits. There is nothing that will give you more chills than when a youth is excited to speak about their culture and the exciting things they have done to celebrate it, whether it be attending pow wows and competing, beading, attending sweat lodges, going to round dances, or simply sharing stories about their ancestors. When we give them this space it gives them a chance to know that they are heard, and we care. I also love learning their native tongue from them. By giving them the opportunity to celebrate themselves we are making sure that they know they are seen, and we hear them.
What is one thing you wish the community knew about youth who access YESS?
They are some of the most incredible humans you could ever encounter. They are selfless, compassionate, caring, emotionally intelligent, and kind. These youth would give the shirt off their own back for someone else who was more in need. I would describe the youth at YESS as “bears”: they are protectors and always look out for those they care about. Most of these youth have been dealt difficult hands, but they have the skill set to manage these hands and they often are able to succeed while at the same time being the most caring human beings. The youth who access our services are some of the most resourceful humans you could ever come across. I would encourage people to just have a conversation with them and you would see how incredible they are.